The Resurrection of Opal Faye

Discussion in 'Acoustic Heaven' started by Fiesta Red, Jul 31, 2020 at 3:12 PM.

  1. Fiesta Red

    Fiesta Red Friend of Leo's

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    A little more than 20 years ago, I was called in to work on a Saturday, and as I drove down the street, something caught the corner of my eye. I figured I had to stop, just to see what it was...

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    It was an Airline archtop acoustic...one string, broken nut, dirtier than a politician’s mind. It had obviously been abused and needed some love.

    It had the price of $5 on it. I opened my wallet, allowing the moths to fly away, and dug out all the money I had—a single $1 bill.

    I offered the Washington, they laughed and said, “Ok,” and I took it home.

    That evening, I cleaned it up and removed the penny rattling around inside (making it a “99c guitar, covered in dirt”—a lyric in a song I later wrote on the instrument, celebrating the trash that becomes treasure in someone else’s hands).

    The next week I did a horrible job of replacing the nut (the first and only time I’ve ever done so) but made it semi-playable and started messing around with it.

    Whoa—this one was really different. Weird fat-but-narrow neck, trapeze tailpiece, and archtop construction that projected very differently than my dreadnought.

    I called a friend who specialized in weird guitars; from the description and the serial number, he deduced it was made by the same company that made Silvertone, Kay and Harmony acoustics in Chicago around 1956. I don’t know if he’s right, but I’ll accept it—he knows more than me.

    Another weird thing...the guitar inspired me to write. Almost every time I picked it up, I’d write a new song...and good ones, too. Slide, fingerpicked, blues, rock, country, Americana, whatever—it made me prolific.

    I wrote several of the best songs I ever wrote on this one, including a song I wrote the day my grandmother died...that led me to naming the guitar after her, “Opal Faye.”

    The guitar reminded me of her—old-fashioned, abused but glamorous, inspirational and able to make beautiful art (she painted and did calligraphy as a hobby).

    A series of unfortunate events led me to have to put it (and another acoustic) up for collateral for a loan from my dad. (he’s weird like that). Somehow it ended up in my wastrel brother’s possession for a period, and it ended up in a barn for a few years...a non-climate-controlled barn in Texas. Hot summers, cold damp winters.

    It didn’t help the already-poor construction. The neck glue let loose (fortunately there was no tension on the strings), and the (poorly) replaced nut shattered.

    Eventually, I happened across it in the barn, and asked if I could buy it back. My father (upset and ashamed that it had been taken out of his closet without his permission and then abused by my sibling) said, “Take it. It looks like you’ll have to spend some money on it to make it work again.” He also gave me back the other acoustic I’d given to him; I’d long-since paid back the loan, but had never collected these two guitars for some reason.

    I took it home, but circumstances prevented me from getting any work done on it. It sat in the corner of my lair for a couple more years. To get it playable again would cost more than it was worth (monetarily)...

    Then one day I recalled an acquaintance who’d built and re-built several acoustic guitars—both traditional-style instruments and even a few weirdos, like the acoustic he built out of old pallets (it weighs a ton but sounds really good...I’m trying to talk him into selling it to me). I asked him to look at it and see what he could do.

    After an unsuccessful attempt to melt and reuse the old hide glue, he removed it and reglued/reset the neck. He then replaced the nut, shaved down the bridge to make the action usable and cleaned up the frets. He polished it up, but at my request left the scratches and visible signs of abuse. He refused to take any money; he said it reminded him of the guitars he used to GAS over in the Montgomery Wards catalogs he had as a kid (he’s in his 70’s), and was glad it would be played again.

    It’s now playable again, and sounds rich, loud and zingy (the way an archtop should)...and it still has that weird mojo that inspires songwriting. I’ve written three and a half songs on it in the month I’ve had it back. My daughter noticed the same thing—she said it made her approach playing differently and made her want to try new chord patterns and riffs.

    So I’m announcing the joyous resurrection of Opal Faye.
     
  2. Stubee

    Stubee Doctor of Teleocity Gold Supporter

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    Cool guitar and story!
     
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  3. 4 Cat Slim

    4 Cat Slim Friend of Leo's

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    Great story of your determination on behalf of a great guitar that survived and still has so
    much music to give. Thanks for sharing Opal Faye's story.
     
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  4. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Friend of Leo's

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    I struggle with the one line where you say that your friend (who had just reset the neck) then "shaved down the bridge to make the action usable....". If the neck had been properly reset that wouldn't have been necessary. Otherwise, nice story.
     
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  5. Fiesta Red

    Fiesta Red Friend of Leo's

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    Two things...

    First, the neck has a slight warp to it (thank you, barn years).

    Second, the bridge was too tall, and not just from his assessment—another very experienced luthier made that statement when I got an estimate for repair. He also said it needed some shaving, and that was the reason I’d never been able to get suitably low action. He only took a millimeter or so off of the “treble” (lower) side.

    Either way, it has a great feel to it now, and I’m happy.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2020 at 6:17 PM
  6. Gabrielle84

    Gabrielle84 Tele-Meister

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    Your story and photos of Opal Faye deserves to be published to a wider audience. Wow! Thank you for posting! Brought a tear of joy to my eye!
     
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  7. Recce

    Recce Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    Great story. Play it in good fun.
     
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  8. teletimetx

    teletimetx Doctor of Teleocity

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    Wonderful story, Red. Thanks for the photos, too.

    Looks like the shaft on the D string tuner had a little adventure. That’s mojo.

    Wonderful too, to have a daughter who appreciates that guitar like you.
     
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  9. tubegeek

    tubegeek Friend of Leo's

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    @Fiesta Red - Great story, great guitar. A suggestion for your next songwriting adventure: "Collateral/Damage."
     
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  10. zombywoof

    zombywoof Friend of Leo's

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    A Kay-made Airline! Based on the position markers looks to have been a mid-level archtop so in between their "student" and "professional" models.

    If the neck is badly cupped the best way to deal with it is compression fretting. I had it done to a 1956 Harmony H40. Worked like a dream.
     
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  11. nojazzhere

    nojazzhere Doctor of Teleocity

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    Great story. By odd coincidence, I had the IDENTICAL guitar, only it was branded Silvertone. Bought in a pawn shop for about fifty dollars, I had hoped it would make a good "jazzer", and I had a vintage DeArmond pickup I wanted to put in it. I could never get it playing right, so I gave up and just hung it on the wall.....great conversation piece. Then, a few years ago, a guy posted on Craigslist looking for an old archtop. He wanted it, not to play, but as a prop in a video he was making. I told him I'd sell mine for the same $50 I'd paid, we met so he could see it, and he said it was perfect, and handed over the cash.
    But I SWEAR, except for the label on the headstock, it was exactly like yours......same finish and tailpiece. ;)
     
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  12. P Thought

    P Thought Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    That might be the best "this old guitar" story I've ever heard!
     
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